Guest blogger Alec Jhangiani is director of programming for the Lone Star International Film Festival.
In June, ex-Miramax president Mark Gill recently gave a speech about the current deplorable condition of the independent film world. Most notable of symptoms include the closure of specialty studio divisions Picturehouse and Warner Independent, 90% cuts in New Line’s staff, the folding of Paramount Vantage into Paramount, and the embarrassing financial woes of ThinkFilm. One might think these afflictions reflect a blood shortage, however, some 5,000 films were made last year, of which, only 603 were released and that’s in a market fit to accommodate maybe 300.
So it seems rather than a lack of blood, there’s constriction at some point along the line. The end you say? Not enough viewers interested in seeing a story end without the promise of a sequel? Not a strong enough campaign for the perspective that entertainment is but one of the inherent virtues of film? Maybe. Perhaps, however, we’ve reached somewhat of a tipping point, similar to that which, 20 some odd years ago, shook the studio system and birthed the very movement whose demise we now fear.
We can take comfort, then, in the fact that history repeats itself considering “in this Darwinian new future, there will absolutely be a premium for good films” and “the strongest of the strong will survive and in fact prosper.” In other words, the bar has been raised and now the art must again reinvent itself to keep up. It’s not enough that a film was made for $25,000, only took 17 days to shoot and a week in post to finish, had a plot that moved along on the shoulders of witty banter, and launched the career of the next Nick Drake derivative. That’s unfair, but you catch my drift. Formulas aren’t effective for very long. It’s time to pay attention to what we’re doing again. Focus. Anticipate, don’t just react.
This, of course, means planning and it’s difficult to plan the production of a film without a story. The story, once again, like forever before, becomes paramount. Before actors, before locations, before lights and lenses, story. Substance before style. Comfort again in history’s habits as there are only a few stories. They shouldn’t be too hard to find if we look closely.